Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"When I Was Smoke": Art Poems by J.P. Dancing Bear

J. P. Dancing Bear is editor of the American Poetry Journal and Dream Horse Press. Bear also hosts the weekly hour-long poetry show Out of Our Minds on public station KKUP, which is available as podcasts. He is the author of 13 collections of poetry: his latest is Love is a Burning Building (FutureCycle Press, 2014); his 14th and 15th books, respectively—Cephalopodic (Glass Lyre) and Fish Singing Foxes (Salmon Poetry)—will be released in 2015. His work appears in American Literary Review, Crazyhorse, the Cimmaron Review, and many other journals. Visit his website here. 

Premonition by Alex Gross
American Dream

Do you remember when sweet Death would ride
on the back of your pink scooter
and everyone would judgingly watch
but not say a word to you about dumb choices
and the spring calves would turn their curious heads
from the daisies they were munching and watch
the two of you motor past like a blur, like a bee
and when you stopped to take it all in your passenger
would pluck a blossom and with delicate bony fingers
she'd place the stem behind your ear
and you'd say in the middle of your spring field
that this was almost home, almost the paradise
of your parents, almost love, your emotions  undulating
like stripes on a flag, and Death, sweet Death,
would open her arms and hug you, try her best
to give you the kiss you'd always hoped for
and somewhere behind some other flower,
the sound of cola cap hissing as it lifted away from the lip.

Hitchhikers (2011) by Wendy Brusick
Day of the Dead

Sometimes we are the flowerheads hitchhiking in the road
on the cusp of a storm, on the edge of the woods—
leaves bright with autumnal sugar. We sisters in lye
white dresses and roadkill stoles hold hands as if to suggest
to the passing motorist a fantasy that doesn't spiral
into death—a second spring, a veering down a gravel driveway,
chasing the last blooms. Already the air smells of seasonal
fermentation, old lusts splitting the skin to reveal its spirits.
Where do we go from here? Eyeing the backseat of an old sedan,
the canvas top pulled back. We waltz like the last
gold aspen leaves, with all the fury of hanging on
for a few moments longer. It's not the end, it's not death,
not yet. Still, we feel the knowledge of the changing weather
deep within our skeletons, deeper than marrow—that first chill.

Journey To Go (1943) by Kay Sage
Thin as a Worn Sheet
Sometimes there is only enough of me to make a thin worn sheet
lifting in the breeze. Could I have cloud envy? No, I am too tired
to care about comparisons. Yes, I have my desires, I keep them
tight as a red ball or a sleeved heart—though why bother?
Such wants are the kindling of gray fires, that burn a landscape
of its color. Once everything was so much more vibrant,
slowly, over decades, the blues and the yellows and reds dull,
are buried in the wrinkles and folds of what I wear for a soul.
Somewhere the gray sheets are flying like tattered gulls.
They are smothering the colors, their wings are the tongues
of flames gone beyond a clean white to dinged disappointments.
Throngs of all the unhappy alternatives pecking the carcass
of desire. You can only imagine your heart as a bright orange sun,
I should probably envy you in your brief delight.
No Kill Zone (2012) by Mays Mayhew
 When I Was Smoke

Maybe the opposite of myself is not the reverse image
offered in smooth mirrors—hands clasped more in desire
than prayer as if my body were the exhaust
of some unquenchable fire. Always this smoldering, this
roiling physique, and though I see myself as black smoke
the reflection only offers something white, as though
a trick is played upon the College of Cardinals—their vote,
their pope, a changeling—unholy like my longing.
You are to me not of flame but fluid and therefore I love
you more. I feel my tendrils, my tongues, stretching out.
You are a white cloud, sinewy and churning, and I see myself
in your movements, which are so similar to mine.
When you look to me, you look into my coals; and this is why
you refused to touch me—afraid we both will dissipate.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Winged Bats and Wounded Amazons: Poems by Sarah Z. Sleeper

Sarah Z. Sleeper is a poet and fiction writer. Her short story, “A Few Innocuous Lines,” won an award from Writer’s Digest. Her flash fiction, “Gretchen in the Box,” was published in The Story Shack. She served as editor-in-chief of the literary journal Masons' Road and was part of the editorial team for the book American Fiction, published by New Rivers Press. In her 20-year career prior to completing her MFA in 2012, her work appeared in Fortune, The Christian Science Monitor, The National Journal, and many more. She won three journalism awards and received a fellowship from the National Press Foundation. Read more on her website hereThe following poems are Sleeper's ekphrastic responses to a 2012 exhibit at Fairfield University's Bellarmine Museum of Art.   

Winged Bat Figure. Mexican
 (Veracruz), 250-500, 

Not Afraid of You

Your squishy fish mouth gapes and stinks sour. Your cockeyed fangs need sharpening and couldn’t pierce the skin of a zapote. Your tongue hangs listless, a limp impotent non-phallus, dangling ironically above your terracotta chastity belt. Olmecs and Aztecs spent terrified nights, afraid you’d escape from your cave, drag them to the devil’s underworld, imprison them forever in the land of the dead. But you can’t possibly hunt with those blind beetle eyes. And if your dense unfeathered wings don’t deny you flight, your alien skull and hammerhead tail will nosedive you into the Pico de Orizaba, leaving Veracruz to its peace.

Cloisonné Disk Brooch,
Frankish, 6th century.
Silver, garnets with patterned foils
Disgrace of Desiderata

A pinwheel of garnet—beautiful, not precious—commissioned by Charlemagne for Desiderata—lovely, not loved. She affixed it to her silken wrap to obscure the spot where her décolletage could have been seen, had he looked. Did he order his jeweler to make the edges uneven, the triangles dull and flattened, equal to his affection? When he sent Desiderata away to Lombard, disgraced and defeated, did she hurl it, clattering stone on stone? Did the King of the Franks offer the child Hildegard a brooch of bloody rubies and royal blue sapphires? And did he rip it from her bosom and ruin her too? 

Wounded Amazon, ca. 440 BCE.
Plaster cast from marble Roman copy
of original Greek bronze.

Penthesilea before Achilles

Penthesilea grieves for Ares and Otrera, a stony tear scars her right eye, the only chink in her flawless symmetry and perpetual, beautiful sadness. She’s fearsome and battle-ready, a study of physical power and dispassionate restraint. Her lips part in silent lament and she raises her arm to reveal a flesh wound, the cut not deep enough to amputate the memory of her guilt. She’s a brazen temptation to the Trojans, her heart unarmored for her deadly tryst with Achilles. Stripped of her weapons, her horse and her honor, she strides toward her suicide, bleeding nine rivers of blood for Hippolyta.